2019 NCAA Tournament Betting Picks: Our Staff’s 6 Favorite Plays for Thursday’s Sweet 16

2019 NCAA Tournament Betting Picks: Our Staff’s 6 Favorite Plays for Thursday’s Sweet 16 article feature image
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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Oregon Ducks guard Payton Pritchard (3) and forward Kenny Wooten (14).

We’re getting down to it now. No more Cinderella’s. No more bad teams getting completely overmatched. Just 16 of the best teams in the country battling it out for a spot in the Final Four.

This weekend’s Sweet 16 matchups are, to put it frankly, awesome. The Elite Eight should be as well.

And who better to tap into this wonderful betting slate than our staffers, who have been hard at work dissecting the Sweet 16 matchups all week.

NCAA Tournament Betting Picks, Thursday Sweet 16

Collin Wilson: Purdue +1.5

If Tennessee is playing an NCAA Tournament game, sign me up for the other side. I have never been a trends player, but a Rick Barnes against the spread tournament record of 1-9-1 cannot be ignored.

A non-cover against Colgate and a second-half collapse against Iowa highlight just how much the Volunteers have trouble closing games. Both Colgate and Iowa followed a formula of shooting from deep with marginal rebound play.

Expect Purdue to follow the same format. The Boilermakers are top 20 in offensive rebounding and love to shoot from deep. Tennessee ranks outside the top 250 on the defensive glass and has had issues with perimeter defense.

Take Purdue and look to tack on another ATS loss to Barnes’ tournament resume.

Ken Barkley: Oregon +8.5

I am much more partial to Friday’s card, but of the offerings for Thursday, this stands out immediately, and for good reason. I think Oregon is extremely tough to quantify right now. Are you using season-long metrics, conference play, or the miraculous 4-game stretch to close the season when “the switch flipped?” How are you compiling a rating and an accurate depiction of what this game will be like?

Oregon’s in no-man’s land, and I have reason to believe this number is valuable because people aren’t sure how good the Ducks really are.

First off, the total is insanely low, as it should be, so points are more valuable. In a game with this small a number of possessions, and the favorite being incredibly reliant on jump shooting (although they are elite at it), the volatility here is pretty high, as it is in many Virginia NCAA Tournament games.

The idea that in such a slow-down game, Virginia’s points-per-possession can create this gap without free throws late is unlikely, given how Oregon has played defensively recently (it’s basically the best remaining team at guarding the 3).

Secondly, even without Bol Bol, this was never the scrappy underdog team that it was made out to be. Really, it’s a team of VERY highly-recruited players who are FINALLY playing like it, with good coaching.

Louis King, Kenny Wooten and Will Richardson were BIG recruits. Payton Pritchard is a 4-star recruit with crazy experience. Paul White was banged up mid-season and finally playing better.

This team might really be a monster wearing an average team’s profile. I’ll take Oregon.

John Ewing: Gonzaga -7.5

More than 60% of spread tickets are on the Seminoles in this Sweet 16 matchup, but there is a lot of history against FSU covering.

For starters, popular underdogs (teams receiving at least 51% of bets) have gone 107-132-5 (45%) ATS since 2005 in the NCAA Tournament.

Plus Florida State scored 90 points in their Round of 32 win over Murray State. Teams that scored 80 or more points in their previous tournament game have gone 124-154-8 (45%) ATS since 2005.

If those teams are underdogs, their ATS record drops to 43-80-4 (35%) ATS.

I know what you are thinking — didn’t Gonzaga also top 80 points in their last game? Yes, and when two teams that both score 80 or more points in their previous game meet in the tournament, the favorite has gone 28-10-1 (74%) ATS.

The Zags have the best offense in the nation (No. 1 in KenPom) and I expect the Noles to struggle to keep pace.

Eli Hershkovich: Texas Tech +1.5 vs. Michigan

The Wolverines are prone to scoring droughts despite their success ATS (21-15), including a 3:29 stretch early on in the second half against Florida. But the Gators — among their other opponents this season — haven’t possessed the offense needed to take advantage of John Beilein’s inconsistent unit.

The Red Raiders (17-16-1 ATS) have the No. 1 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (85.5 opponents’ points per 100 possessions) in the country, sparked by letting up the second-lowest eFG% (42.8%). Their ball pressure limits opponents’ ability to attack the rim, which Michigan thrives on to setup its perimeter offense (second-highest 3-point scoring rate in Big Ten play).

Although the Wolverines have the second-best defense in Division I by the same measure, their offensive limitations should allow Chris Beard’s unit to control the tempo. Texas Tech’s offense possesses an advantage, too, as its sound interior scoring will be able to take advantage of a Michigan team yielding the highest 2-point scoring rate (59.6%) in the nation.

Mike Randle: Virginia -8.5 vs. Oregon

I’ll go against Ken Barkley here with the help of John Ewing to do it.

One of the most reliable aspects of Virginia basketball is that it dominates (when DeAndre Hunter is healthy) weaker opponents. That’s exactly what the Hoos did all season. Head coach Tony Bennett’s team has produced incredible metrics all year. They rank third overall in adjusted defensive efficiency, second in adjusted offensive efficiency, and are the top overall team in KenPom.

We are just one month removed from Oregon losing three consecutive Pac-12 games to Oregon State, USC, and UCLA. The Ducks are commended for their late-season win streak, led by the interior dominance of sophomore big man Kenny Wooten.

However, defeating the UC Irvine Anteaters is a completely different animal than defeating the back-to-back ACC regular-season champions. The Ducks do defend 3-pointers well (sixth best overall), but they are mediocre against the 2-pointer.

Playing in nearby Louisville, Ky., will be yet another advantage for a Virginia team that has been on a Final Four mission all year. The Cavaliers will jump out early on Oregon and force a limited Oregon offense to come from behind. That is a death sentence against a patient Virginia team that makes the opponent adjust to their pace.

Oregon head coach Dana Altman did a fantastic job this year, and a Sweet 16 birth is more than enough for the overachieving Ducks.

Stuckey: Michigan-Texas Tech Under 126

No matter which way you split it, these are two of the best defenses in the entire country. Let’s just look at a few ways we could split it:

Half-court defense:

Texas Tech ranks No. 1 in the nation at 0.734 Points Per Possession
Michigan ranks No. 5, per Synergy

For those that like to say defense wins championships, six of the top 10 teams in that category are all still alive.

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency:

Texas Tech ranks No. 1, per KenPom.
Michigan ranks No. 2.

I could go on and on and on, but I won’t bore you. And you probably get the point. These are two of the top three defenses in Division I (Virginia being the other) and they are led by two of the top coaches in the country for my money. I think both will have a master defensive game plan and make this an absolute rock fight in what should be a very methodical game in the half court.

Texas Tech does force a ton of turnovers, but Michigan doesn’t turn it over, like almost every Beilein team. I think that will work in the favor of the under as TT will have fewer transition opportunities and Michigan will have longer offensive possessions.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Michigan Wolverines head coach John Beilein, guard Jordan Poole (2), guard Zavier Simpson (3).

Also, this is not the same caliber shooting team that Michigan has been in the past and Texas Tech has an excellent 2-point percentage defense. In fact, the Red Raiders rank second nationally in 2-point percentage behind UC Irvine. And you know which team follows Texas Tech in that category? Michigan State, which swept the Wolverines in all three meetings this year.

Expect some brilliant game plans and in-game adjustments from Beard and Beilein. You should get a few different looks throughout the game. As long as there isn’t obscene 3-point variance or lots of fouling late, this looks like first to 60 moves on.

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